Feature Article - November 2006
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Special Supplement: Problem-Solver Guidebook

By Stacy St. Clair and Emily Tipping

Creating a Park for a Variety of Age Groups

When it comes to parks, it shouldn't all be kidding around. Modern-day parks can—and should be—partners in promoting a healthy, active lifestyle for people of all ages. To that end, progressive recreation managers have turned to multigenerational facilities, where the entire family can enjoy the equipment and the benefits of exercise.

Q: What, exactly, is a multigenerational park?

A: You cannot build a multigenerational park until you understand what one isn't: It's not just a landscaped patch open to everyone. Rather, these parks provide unique and unusual outdoor physical activities to toddlers, children, teens, adults and seniors. They also create some passive leisure-time activities, such as walking and environmental education.

Q: What are the benefits of such a park? Why can't I stay with my children's playground?

A: Multigenerational parks are the wave of the future. These parks help combat obesity in all ages, provide children and teens with positive physical activities and give parents and grandparents an opportunity to exercise while spending quality time with their families.

Q: Why should I build a park that caters to seniors when they're not the most frequent users?

A: In addition to health benefits, multigenerational parks offer an excellent chance to plan for the future. U.S. Census Bureau statistics suggest that roughly 40 percent of the population will be older than 50 by the year 2030. The data also predict that the percentage of the population older than 65 will jump from the current 12 percent to 20 percent in the next 25 years. Recreation managers would be well-advised to address the needs of this growing and influential segment of the population while including activities for younger people too.

Q: What kind of active recreation should I provide for seniors?

A: Any park aimed at providing senior recreation should include walking paths or trails. Walking is an ideal fitness option for the elderly because it comes with low physical risks. The paths can be enhanced by adding equipment designed to provide fun and challenging activities to all users. The elements of the park should bolster social skills, as well as physical strength, balance and aerobic activity. The equipment—sometimes referred to as wellness stations—should offer patrons different challenge levels.

Q: What other elements should be included in a multigenerational park?

A: In addition to offering low-impact activities such as a walking path, consider installing features such as skateparks, playgrounds and climbing walls. Not only do these diversions appeal to younger patrons, they also provide fun recreation opportunities for young-at-heart adults who prefer a more high-energy workout. When selecting a climbing boulder or designing a skatepark, be sure both can be enjoyed by people with various skill and fitness levels.

Q: How can I make sure patrons take advantage of this type of park?

A: Once the park has been built, use programs that will draw in the community. Previous generations of fitness trails, climbing walls and skateparks have failed because they were designed for ultra-fit patrons and highly skilled users. Novices who attempted these elements used them without promotion or programming. Take the time to explain the park and trails to patrons and stress the all-ages approach to fitness. Introduce the path or climbing wall to users via contests and games that encourage usage. The multigenerational park is just that—grandparents, parents, young adults, teens and toddlers—fun for the entire family.


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